REACTION: What scientists say about the first genetically modified animal to be approved for humans to eat

Overnight, the US Food and Drug Administration made a breakthrough announcement.

For the first time, a genetically modified animal has been approved worldwide for human consumption.

It’s a salmon, created by AquaBounty Technologies Inc, and it has been engineered to grow faster than either conventionally farmed or wild salmon.

Here’s what the new fish looks like:

It took nearly 20 years for AquaBounty to get approval to release the salmon for the food market. And despite its approval, there are still plenty of concerns about any possible impact on health, of humans, and the environment in which it will be raised.

Part of the restrictions on raising the salmon include it only being raised in contained hatchery tanks on land in two facilities in Canada and Panama. So while it’s approved for consumption in the US, the FDA won’t let it be grown there.

The fish must be contained using multiple physical barriers, including plumbing that filters out eggs and fish. Even if the fish did escape, they are sterile, so they could not breed in the wild, according to the FDA.

GMO, it seems, will be forever controversial. The “new fish” has sparked plenty of debate on social media, and just last week, this scientist bet $10 million that GMO foods are unsafe.

But so far, the reaction from the wider scientific community has been largely positive. Here’s a sample from AusSMC of what they’re saying:

‘It’s a 10,000 year old process’

Professor Dean Jerry:
(Professor in Aquaculture Genetics at James Cook University and one of Australia’s leading genetic experts in the use of genetic technologies to improve aquaculture production.)

“The approval of a GM salmon with a gene to dramatically increase its growth performance is the culmination of various genetic and breeding processes manipulated by mankind for over 10,000 years and offers the opportunity to produce food more efficiently and with certain characteristics that will have proven benefits for both producers and consumers.

“Importantly, despite a barrage of misinformation, comprehensive scientific review has shown that the GM product is safe to consume and the impact to the environment under the conditions of farming imposed are low.”

‘Science is listening to environmental groups’

Dr Mart Gross
(Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto.)

“I believe this is a historic decision for the future of human agriculture.

…Approving the GMO Atlantic salmon opens the application of GMO technology to large numbers of agricultural species to meet continuing and growing demands for more and better food. Thus, the decision creates an opportunity to use modern technology to move genes at a rapid rate in many species which will be useful for feeding a growing human population with increased demands for quality products.

“The decision shows that the important pressure from environmental groups to meet ecological concerns can be incorporated into decision making, and that there is a role for concern about the environment in deciding how and when modern technology will be applied in agriculture.”

‘It wouldn’t have been allowed in Europe’

Dr Joe Perry
(Former chair of the European Food Safety Authority GMO Panel.)

“There remain legitimate ecological concerns over the possible consequences if these GM salmon escape to the wild and reproduce, despite FDA assurances over containment and sterility, neither of which can be guaranteed.

“My view is that if an application were to be made for such GM salmon to be released in Europe, then the risk assessment would require considerably more data to demonstrate the efficacy of the induced sterility in these GM salmon than were required by the FDA.”

AquaBounty says its salmon eat 25% less feed than any Atlantic salmon on the market. Image: AquaBounty

‘The data has been freely available’

Professor Helen Sang
(Personal Chair in Vertebrate Molecular Development, Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh.)

“AquaBounty … has provided extensive information for evaluation of the safety of the salmon as a food and of the potential environmental risks. These data have been made freely available and scrutinised by regulators and external groups.

“Genetic modification technologies provide additional tools for breed improvement that have potential to contribute to sustainable and efficient production of animals for food, an increasing challenge for society.

‘Other countries will do it’

Dr Rex Dunham
(Professor, School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, Auburn University.)

“This ruling is important to make aquaculture more productive and efficient. Technologies such as this are important as the population of our planet continues to grow, and requires more protein with increasing demand for fish. It is important to be able to increase production and efficiency using as small a footprint as possible, and genetic engineering is an important tool to accomplish this.

“From an economic standpoint, it is inevitable that other countries will implement this technology and it is important for the US and North America to remain competitive.”

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